UK/Foreign policy/Deaths

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The bulk of this page is paraphrased from the book "Unpeople" by Mark Curtis [1]

Deaths from Post-WWII British Interventions

Millions of people have died as a direct result of Britain's post WWII foreign policy; people whose lives are seen as expendable in pursuit foreign policy goals largely dictated by corporate interests.5

The following two tables provide figures for the estimated number of deaths resulting from deliberate government actions since World War II, for which Britain bears significant responsibility. There are two tables:

  1. Direct responsibility - Where British military and/or covert forces have played a direct role.
  2. Indirect responsibility - Where Britain has provided strong support (through trade, arms exports, aid and/or diplomatic support) for allies engaged in aggression or killing.

Were cases of 'active inaction' or simply 'turning a blind eye' to be included the figures would be significantly greater.

The figures quoted are from commonly cited estimates and represent either broad consensus or, where there is a wide diversity of estimates, the upper and lower figures. They do NOT include the extra-judicial killings common to many of the repressive regimes supported by Britain as a matter of course throughout the post-war period - for example Saudi Arabia, The Gulf States, Uzbekistan and many others. Neither do the figures include the millions of easily preventable deaths from disease and other consequences of abject poverty throughout the so-called 'Third World'. The figures also generally refer to the number of 'enemy' deaths rather than total deaths.

Whilst not claiming to be a thorough scientific analysis, the tables provide a reasonably accurate reflection of British responsibility for a very large number of deaths throughout the world during the the post-WWII period.

Direct Responsibility

Year Conflict Estimated deaths Britain's role
2003 Invasion and occupation of Iraq 100,000 - 1,000,000 British forces played secondary role to US in military operations. Full British Government support throughout
2001 Bombing, invasion and occupation of Afghanistan 20,000 - 40,000 Same as for the Iraq invasion
1999 Bombing of Yugoslavia 1,000 British forces played secondary role to US in military operations as part of wider NATO campaign
1998 Bombing of Iraq 600 - 1,600 British forces played secondary role to US in military operations
1991 Gulf war 100,000 - 150,000 Ditto
1982 Falklands war 655 British military campaign to regain the Falkland Islands from Argentina
1961-1973 Vietnam - SE Asia wars 2,500,000 - 3,000,000 Britain privately backed the US strongly, regularly supported it publicly but also played several direct roles; providing military and 'counter-insurgency' advice to South Vietnam. British covert forces took part in the war; intelligence was passed to US military. The British role was therefore more direct than indirect
1962-1970 War in Yemen 150,000 - 200,000 Secret British operations involving covert action and arms supplies
1962-1970 Suppression of revolts in Aden 300 - 900 British 'colonial' government forces responsible
1965-1966 Indonesian army slaughters 500,000 - 1,000,000 Britain provided Indonesian generals with variety of direct, covert support, including 'information' operations
1952-1960 War in Kenya 150,000 British colonial war and 'resettlement' operations
1948-1960 War in Malaya 10,000 - 13,000 Ditto
1957-1958 Rebellion against Indonesian central government 5,000 Covert operation with US to support the rebellion, including arms supplies
1956 British invasion of Egypt 1,600 - 3,000 Military intervention with France and Israel to control the Suez canal
1948-1955 Uprising in Baltic states of the USSR 75,000 British covert operation to fund and support uprisings
1953 Coup in Iran 300 British covert operation with the CIA to overthrow the government of Mohammed Mossadeq
1950-1953 Korean war 1,000,000 - 2,000,000 British military played key role, technically as part of UN force, in reality led by US
1944-1949 Greek civil war 65,000 - 80,000 British military/covert operations in support of Greek government
1945-1949 War for Indonesian independence 5,000 - 80,000 Military involvement to suppress independence movement
  Low High
Sub-Totals 4,834,455 7,800,455

Indirect Responsibility

Year Conflict Estimated deaths Britain's role
2000-present Israeli killings in occupied territories 4,100 The British government is a strong supporter of Israeli policies in many ways.
1999-present Killings in Nigeria 12,000 The British government is strong a supporter of Nigerian policies in many ways.
1999-present Second Russian invasion of Chechnya 15,000 - 25,000 The British government is a strong supporter of Russian policies in many ways.
1996-present Nepal civil war 3,700 The British Government provides military and diplomatic support to the government of Nepal
1990-present Columbia State killings 25,000 - 45,000 The British government is strong a supporter of Columbian policies in many ways.
1976-present Indonesian attacks in Aceh province 20,000 The British government is a strong supporter of Indonesian policies in many ways.
1969-present Indonesian attacks in West Papua province 100,000 Ditto
1991-2003 Sanctions against Iraq 500,000 - 1,000,000 Technically maintained by the UN; in reality supported virtually solely by Britain and US
1999 Indonesian attacks in East Timor 5,000 British Government continued to support, and arm, Indonesia, throughout the violence
1984-1999 Turkey's campaign against Kurds 30,000 British governments were strong supporters of Turkey's policies, in various ways
1998 US bombing of Sudan 15,000 - 30,000 Britain strongly supported US attack that destroyed pharmaceutical factory producing most of Sudan's life-saving drugs
1994-1996 Russian invasion of Chechnya 60,000 - 100,000 British Government provided strong support to Russia, in various ways
1948-1994 Apartheid South Africa state killings 10,000 - 20,000 British governments consistently backed South African regimes, in various ways
1989 US invasion of Panama 350 - 3,000 Britain provided strong diplomatic support
1980-1988 Iran–Iraq war 1,000,000 Thatcher government effectively supported Iraq's attack on Iran, supplying it with military equipment and financial aid
1987-1988 Iraq's campaign against Kurds 100,000 Ditto
1984-1985 Ugandan civil war 100,000 - 300,000 Britain provided strong support to the Ugandan government and maintained military training programme
1984-1985 Indonesian state killings 5,000 Thatcher government was strong supporter of Indonesia, in various ways
Early 1980's El Salvador civil war 75,000 - 80-000 Thatcher government provided strong diplomatic backing to US strategy supporting Salvadoran regime
1980's US aggression against Nicaragua 30,000 Thatcher government provided strong diplomatic and other backing, including covert support, to US strategy
1953-1979 Shah's regime in Iran 10,000 British governments provided strong support to Shah's regime, in various ways
1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor 200,000 Wilson/Callaghan governments provided strong backing to Indonesia, in various ways
1973 Coup in Chile 3,000-5000 Heath government welcomed coup and backed Pinochet regime, as did subsequent British governments
1967-1970 Nigeria/Biafra civil war 1,000,000 - 3,000,000 Wilson government gave strong backing to Nigeria, in various ways
1963 Iraq killings 5,000 Macmillan government in effect supported massacres and welcomed new military government
1960's Iraq campaigns against Kurds 12,000 - 100,000 British governments gave strong backing to Iraq in various ways
  Low High
Sub-totals 3,340,150 6,302,800
  Low High
Grand totals 8,174,605 14,103,255

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  1. ISBN 0099469723 Unpeople - Britain's Secret Human Rights Abuses. By Mark Curtis. 2004